The Maori Party has budgeted $22,000 for legal advice regarding the complaint made against Hone Harawira for stating the obvious, and hired Mai Chen to boot, to coin a phrase. Chen has pointed to the decision in Peters v Collinge where Justice Fisher stated that disciplinary matters were political issues and all that was required for parties was to follow their procedures. Other legal bloggers such as Imperatorfish and Andrew Geddis at Pundit opine that as long as it follows its procedures the Maori Party is free to dismiss Hone.
I am not a lawyer but have had experience of dealing with a few disciplinary complaints and requests for expulsion. I agree with the Honourable judge that these matters are fundamentally political, and also that it is absolutely crucial that any Party scrupulously follows its own procedures.
There is a strange anomaly in the Maori Party Constitution. It first of all states that all decisions of its governing Council are to be made by consensus, and goes on to attempt a definition of what this means.
(Consensus may be defined as a process of ‘whakawhitiwhiti whakaaro,’ To arrive at an outcome at which those present, are accepting’).
However there are no such procedural requirements specified for its five-person disciplinary committee, whose quorum is three, and where it appears the matter will now head. Nor are any powers specified as to what this committee may or may not do to “seek resolution of the matter”, simply that it report decisions to the National Council. It is unclear whether this is for endorsement or for information. If it is for endorsement it is unlikely to achieve consensus, given that Te Tai Tokerau is represented on the Council. Unlike the Labour Party constitution, there is no mention of natural justice or any right of appeal. It looks a bit like kangaroo kaupapa to me.
Mai Chen also said that issues relating to Hone have been under consideration for some time. The provision in the Constitution under which the complaint is to be dealt with was passed at the party’s annual hui last October. It would be interesting to know if Mai Chen’s advice was also sought in its drafting, and if that was where some of the $22,000 was spent. Even Mai couldn’t have spent all that this year. Either some of it is gone already or the Maori Party thinks the matter will end up in court.
In my experience, just as the judges are wise to stay hands off, the last people political parties want involved in these matters are lawyers. As with Richard Prebble and Labour in 1988, in the end it is the party that suffers.